The Story of Lame Tom: Finding Gifts Among Tragedy

The true “pioneers” of Alpine County were the native Washoe. But little was written about them in the early days. So it was a real treat to stumble across a 1927 Record-Courier article detailing the life of Markleeville resident “Lame Tom.”

In the early 1900s, Lame Tom (his real name was Assu) lived in a wickiup just below the old wooden schoolhouse on Schoolhouse Hill. By then, he was an elderly gentleman. He shared his humble abode with a friend with the euphonious name of Zon-ha-gen-mal-anay, popularly known as “Squealing Aleck.”

“Lame Tom” (Assu), about 1900 (courtesy of Alpine County Historical Society).

Lame Tom was a son of Chief Possic (or Possuk), a Washoe captain living near the Hot Springs who was said to have been a guide in the early days for John Fremont’s party. Noted basketmaker Dat-So-La-Lee married into their family.

In his youth, Lame Tom was acclaimed as a hunter. But tragedy struck one night while he camped out alone. A large, heavy log rolled off his campfire and onto his leg while he slept, and the burning wood pinned him “like a vise.”

The log pinned his leg like a vise.

The brave young man did the unthinkable: he amputated his own leg with a hunting knife to free himself, and “crawled many miles home” to his camp.

Amazingly, he survived. But Lame Tom could no longer hunt. Instead took up the art of arrowhead-making — soon becoming one of the “most proficient of all the arrowhead makers.” He would shape a flake of obsidian by cradling it in his palm with buckskin, then striking the edge of the stone with a piece of buckhorn (antler) lashed to a length of greasewood. The only person who could equal him was noted arrowhead-maker Poker Charlie (Tillebow Behang), another son of Chief Possic. (A little family rivalry, perhaps!)

Lame Tom, possibly outside his home on Montgomery Street in Markleeville. (courtesy of Alpine County Historical Society)

Lame Tom also crafted bows made of cedar and sinew, and would sell a bow and arrow set to local lads for “two bits” (25 cents). He also taught them how to weave snowshoes.

Due to his injury, Lame Tom was permitted to marry two wives, an important form of social support. Both wives were employed in or near Markleeville: Maley worked for the Musser family, while Susie was employed by Harriet Grover. Interestingly enough, Squealing Aleck (Lame Tom’s friend) had three wives, and an astonishing ten daughters.

Lame Tom passed away in 1910. So it’s a delight to be able to connect this photograph from the Alpine County Museum with his story, thanks to the old Record-Courier article from 1927.

Local arrowheads and display in the Washoe Exhibit at Alpine County Museum.

Stop in at the Museum next time you visit Markleeville: there’s more great information here about the local Washoe heritage, including this stunning collection of local arrowheads. Who knows, perhaps some of these might even have been crafted by Lame Tom (Assu) or his talented brother, Poker Charlie.

More unique history and undiscovered tales! Get your copy at http://www.Clairitage.com

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Special thanks to the Alpine County Museum for permission to share the photo of Lame Tom. Visit the Museum at the top of Schoolhouse Hill in Markleeville Thursday through Sunday from late May through October, summer hours 10-4.

Memoir Writers: How to Create a Get-Organized Tool Kit

Writing a memoir or oral history? You’ll find it helpful to put together a Memoir Writer’s Tool Kit ahead of time! What to include??

Here is a list of tools in my own kit: things I’ve found especially helpful for memoirs/oral histories. And the good news: they’re all small enough to keep in a handy tote-along bag!

Camera – Today’s small-but-sophisticated cameras make it easy to capture not only your subject but also places and things that will illustrate their story. Perhaps it’s a shot of the house where they grew up. Or maybe they make beautiful quilts, baby clothes, or baskets. These all make great illustrations for a life story. And small cameras tend to be less-intrusive than giant ones, and are often more usable in any light!

Hand-scanner – One of the greatest innovations in recent years for genealogists and memoir writers is the introduction of small, portable scanners. With these you can easily copy old newspapers clippings, handwritten manuscripts, and other documents. They even do a darn fine job of copying old photos! (I have a VuPoint Magic Wand and love it!) Here’s an example:

Digital microphone – If you want to be certain you get a subject’s words exactly right, ask if you can record your conversation. Small digital microphones are great if your subject is willing to be recorded. (The one I use is a Sony).

Spiral-bound notepads – I’m a huge fan of small pads of paper — and I leave the *everywhere* to capture notes and ideas! (purse; bedside table; car). A great, simple way to record notes about ideas, stories, formatting. They don’t have to be fancy; just something like this:

Business cards – yes, you need a business card. Even if you’re not selling your history-writing skills, it’s the simplest, easiest way to share your email address and phone number. (Have you ever struggled to make out someone’s handwriting or couldn’t tell if that was a “3” or an “8” in their number? ‘Nuff said!) Helpful tip: make sure the font size on your card is large enough to be read by most people without searching for their glasses!

Pens – everyone has a favorite ink pen. Keep plenty of yours on hand.

Calendar or planner – whether you’re jotting down your next appointment or penciling in a target deadline or completion date, a good calendar is a must!

Consent form for oral history – It’s always a good idea to be sure you and your subject are on the same page. (There’s a sample form in my LifeStory Workbook.)

Laptop or iPad – If you’re a fast-fingered typist, note-taking can be a breeze on these portable devices. I love my iPad and it’s easy to add a wireless keyboard.

Extra batteries for any devices. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been grateful for this “extra batteries” advice! I keep extras with me for my hand-scanner and microphone. And be sure your camera, phone and tablet/laptop are charged up before you head out the door!

Magnifying glass – You never know when you’re going to want to scrutinize a faded handwritten letter or study a hard-to-make-out postmark. Bring a magnifier that will sharpen the details — preferably one with a light.

Sticky notes – You can’t have too many sticky notes. Big, little, or in-between, just make sure you keep some with you! They’re great for marking things to follow up on, jotting questions, and just keeping your life stories organized.

List of interview questions – Another important “keep yourself organized” tip: jot down the question you want to be sure you don’t forget before you go! (Helpful samples are also in the LifeStory Workbook)

Tote bag – And to keep everything together and ready to go out the door, pick up a fun tote bag. Look for one with zippered compartments like this one, so things won’t fall out. And for plain canvas, try adding your choice of an iron-on transfer for some extra fun.

 

Bonus List for Cemeteries:  Checking out cemeteries as part of your family research? In addition to a good camera (of course), be sure to pack along:

  • Whisk broom with soft bristles and a long handle to gently removes leaves and debris from gravestones without bending over, for photographs;
  • Spray bottle filled with water – a quick spritz with water helps with contrast in hard-to-photograph stones;
  • Tripod to keep your camera steady; and
  • Pocket rain poncho – Voice of experience here: you never know when Mother Nature is going to have her own ideas about the weather! Keep a cheap plastic rain poncho handy (the kind that folds up and can fit in your glove box or pocket)!

Hope you find these suggestions helpful for creating your own memoir or life story kit. Please let me know if you have other great ideas to add!

Help Us Get These Great Photos Back Home!

Several years ago I bought some old photos — which arrived with a huge packet of other snapshots I hadn’t expected.  These black-and-white “bonus” pictures obviously  came from a family album of the 1920s, and are now nearly a century old. And that was the start of trying to unlock their mystery!

Most of these old photos were unlabeled, but a few names were sprinkled here and there. One cryptic caption in particular became the starting point for my hunt to learn more about these great images: “Grandma [and] Grandpa Spielvogel.” There’s Grandma, looking a little frail  — and a good bit out of focus. And there in the background stands Grandpa in his suspenders, still hale and hearty though perhaps in his 80s.

And then there was this nostalgic scene — evidently Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel’s family farm. This one, at least, was marked with a location: Prescott, Michigan. (And you’ve got to love that car!)

There were other pictures, too, with partial names as tantalizing clues. Here is a fascinating image of Aunt Anna and Uncle Otto. Between them is Harley, roughly ten years old  and leading a horse. And there’s an affectionate Paul and Mildred, big grins on their faces and holding pails as if they were just out for blackberries.

Such a wonderful picture! But what was their story?

Spielvogel is a lovely German last name meaning “songbird.” But these photos definitely weren’t singing much information about their original owners!

I tried reaching out on the internet to every modern Spielvogel whose email address I could find — with zero success. A few photos mentioned sites in Ontario, so I tried local historical societies and even an Ontario genealogical group, but came up equally empty-handed. Finally, a friend plugged the Spielvogel name into Ancestry.com– and BINGO!! Finally, we have Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel’s first names!

Grandma & Grandpa Spielvogels’ grave in Mich.

He was Paul Spielvogel, born in Germany in 1856. And his wife is Paulina Newbower Spielvogel, born in 1858, also in Germany. Paul and Paulina were the proud parents of four children: Elizabeth, Paul, Anna, and a girl named Bartlair. Grandma Paulina, it seems, was indeed frail; she died in 1929, just a few years after her picture was taken. Grandpa must have missed her terribly; he died in 1930, the very next year after Paulina passed away. Both are buried in the Catholic Cemetery in Whittemer, Iosco County, Michigan.

And with that small beginning, the story behind the photos began to come together! “Aunt Anna” was one of Paul and Paulina’s children, born in 1882. Otto was Anna’s husband — Otto Charles Fuerst.  And Harley was Anna’s and Otto’s son.

But exactly which  Spielvogel descendant once owned all these wonderful photos? We still don’t know for sure.

Son Paul married Mildred Alstrom, and they seem to have ended up in Detroit. Daughter Elizabeth married a fellow named Wayne. Bartlair doesn’t seem to be in the later picture. So if Anna was an aunt, the mystery photographer was likely a son of either Paul or Elizabeth — but who was he?

We know he liked to travel; there are snapshots of the U.S. Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue in 1925 (then a wide-open street lined with Tin Lizzies). There are references to Mt. Vernon, Virginia and Lexington Avenue, New York. And there are photos taken in Vancouver and Bay City, Belle Isle and Island Lake.

Lillian Tuckey

A few more names are scrawled as possible clues: There’s Lillian Tuckey and what might be her sister, Florence. There’s a smiling Ruby and her beau, a young gent named Claire. There’s Leo with a hunting rifle.There’s a dapper lad with glasses named Lou. And here’s the best clue of all: a photo of “Herb and myself.”

The best clue of all: Herb and “myself”! But who was he??

But who exactly was the mysterious photographer who once owned these wonderful family photos?  And most important, does he have any descendants who would love to have them back?

They say that there are just six degrees of separation in this world — between friends, family, and friends-of-friends, we’re all connected. So we are reaching out to ask for YOUR help!! Do you know any Spielvogels? Anyone named Fuerst, or perhaps a contact near Prescott, Michigan? To someone, these nearly-one-hundred-year-old family photos would be a priceless legacy.

We’d love to find a way to get them back home!! Please let us know if you can help — and feel free to forward this post to anyone else who might know!

Memoir Writing: Getting Unstuck

It happens to every would-be memoir writer: your words somehow just stop flowing. Or maybe, despite good intentions, they never get started.

So you keep telling your kids you’ll get those family stories on paper. You ogle memoir books in the library and your local history museum. But when you sit down in front of that blank piece of paper or computer screen, a dozen urgent tasks popped up to drag you away, every time. Like . . . polishing the top of the fridge.

It’s oh-so-understandable and utterly common! But what do you do about it?! How do you go from “wannabe” memoir writer to “here’s my book”?

Even “bad” times make great memoir fodder!

Let’s start with what not to do:  Don’t kick yourself. Guilt won’t help you get words onto paper.

Here are three tips to try, starting right now, to help get your memoir launched and off to a running start:

(1)  Pull out your calendar.  That’s right — make a date with yourself and pencil “memoir time” in. Pick a day, pick a time, and block out half an hour. Just half an hour is enough to get you off to a rolling start! And here’s the magic kicker: before that first writing session ends, pencil in another date for your very next writing session. Things written down on a calendar tend to “happen,” especially when the commitment isn’t overwhelming (like half an hour). Before you know it, those memoir pages will start to add up!

(2)  Give yourself permission to start in the middle.  Some people had totally fascinating childhoods. But often our memories as a five-year-old aren’t the ones we most want to get down on paper.  Don’t get stuck thinking you have to write about your life chronologically. It’s okay to start with your most interesting stories — the ones you really want to write. You can always go back and fill in the backstory parts later.

Do you have happy memories of someone special?

(3)  Use prompts when you get stuck.  Talking with a friend, relative, or caring acquaintance about your life can often help get memories rolling again. It can also be helpful to hear what someone else wants to learn about. Ask that person to listen and ask you questions. Examples of helpful question “prompts” that can spur your writing on include:

When did you feel most special or proud?

Who was your favorite relative, and what is your happiest memory of them?

What was the first job for which you actually got paid?

What helped you survive the toughest times of your life?

I’d love to hear about your real-life struggles with memoir-writing! Leave me a comment below and I’ll try to include suggestions in future blog posts.

 

 

 

Spielvogel Mystery

Grandma & Grandpa Spielvogel
Grandma & Grandpa Spielvogel circa 1931

The mystery of the Spielvogels has been bugging me for years now.

This picture, one of about 50 old black-and-whites, arrived in an envelope courtesy of an eBay find. From the cryptic legends it was clear the family was from Northern Michigan or perhaps Ontario.  They owned a farm.  The old homestead was in Prescott, and Arley and Lou were likely grandsons.

Spielvogel 2

But who were they?  Grandma appears careworn and a tad frail; Grandpa is evidently a sturdy German farmer, suspenders and all.  Dinner would have been filling and hearty at their table.  Days probably began before dawn and didn’t end until dishes were wiped and put away, cows milked, and chickens fed.

Names are scattered here and there like clues among the images: Uncle Harvey petting his Collie dog in 1923.  Lillian Tuckey in a flapper dress with her ukulele.  Here was Lou kissing Florence and Wayne kissing Elizabeth at Bob-Lo Park on a sunny Sunday, August 11, 1929.  Did they marry?  Did they have kids?  Did Grandma and Grandpa Spielvogel make it to the wedding?

Lillian Tuckey
Lillian Tuckey and her ukelele

I tried several times to find Spielvogel descendants, who would cherish these wonderful images.  But emails went unanswered.  So if you’re a descendant of Lou and Florence, or happen to know where Grandma and Grandpa were buried, please drop a line and let us know!  It would be great to know more about the stories behind these amazing images.